(At last season's Ratchaburi game, we were lucky enough to stay in the same hotel as the players. Sadly the likes of Jakkapan and Peeradol have moved on but they're always in our hearts)
So this game has been brought forward from late March?
Yes, I believe it's been re-arranged because of the Asia Champions League schedule but I confess that competition is not something I take an enormous amount of interest in.
Whatever the reasons and circumstances, this means four successive away trips for Samut Prakan (and their loyal travelling fans) in less than two weeks. Today's game at Ratchaburi is followed by a tough midweek trip to Bangkok United. Then comes a weekend fixture up in Chiang Mai before taking on Buriram three days later in the league cup round of 16. I've barely got time to wash our footie shirts!
And this will be a third trip to the impressive Mitr Phol Stadium?
Although it's one of the best stadiums in Thai football and always a pleasure to visit, it's certainly not a happy hunting ground in terms of league points. We have been well beaten there on our previous two visits.
In our first season, in a truly bizarre game, Samut Prakan conceded FIVE second half goals after leading 2-0 at half-time. And last season, after taking the lead through a Barros Tardelli penalty, we were outplayed in the second period and lost 3-1.
But this game feels a little more...er...winnable?
I've always considered Ratchaburi a top six side but The Dragons let some of their best players go in pre-season and never really replaced them in terms of quality (a story that sounds depressingly close to home)
At the moment, Ratchaburi are in 12th position (one place above Samut Prakan) and while they are three points better off, they have played one game more. This match is Samut Prakan's chance to draw level and drag Ratchaburi right into the thick of the relegation fight.
Samut Prakan should play without fear. The Mitr Phol Stadium doesn't smack of the fortress it once was and The Dragons have lost half of their eight home matches this season. Buriram, Bangkok United and Chiang Rai have all gone home with maximum points along with Muangthong, who won here 1-0 on Wednesday. I watched that game on TV and thought Ratchaburi looked very, very beatable. I won't make a score prediction but I'm extremely confident we can get at least a point.
And they are now managerless
Ratchaburi boss Somchai Maiwilai handed in his resignation after Wednesday's defeat against Muangthong. As either a manager, a caretaker or an assistant, he had been at the club for well over ten years.
Player to watch?
Vanderley Dias Marinho (Derley) has banged in 9 of Ratchaburi's 20 league goals this season. The 34-year-old Brazilian striker, who made 15 appearances for Benfica in his late twenties, is following on from a successful time at Muangthong where he bagged 20 goals in 44 games.
(It's worth driving all the way to this place just for the Chinese dumplings with stewed pig's leg)
The drive from Samut Prakan to Ratchaburi takes under two hours, even taking the longer route through Nakhon Pathom. We reached Ratchaburi about midday, parked up in our regular spot in front of the town's museum (which we've seen before) and enjoyed lunch at the nearby 'old-school' Chinese restaurant, which thankfully wasn't heaving with the usual mix of diners and Instagrammers.
After lunch, we intended to have a familiar stroll along the riverbank but the whole area had been cordoned off in preparation for the forthcoming Chinese New Year celebrations. Ratchaburi had unfortunately been gripped by Covid fear, having reported six fatalities the previous day. Anyone attending the Chinese New Year bash, even the fully vaccinated, would have to take a test before mingling with the crowds. We popped into a coffee shop that had been getting rave reviews on Thai travel forums, but the owner had decided to switch off the air-conditioning to prevent spread of the virus, making it both uncomfortably warm and thoroughly unwelcoming. We decided to push on to our hotel just four kilometres away.
Although we usually like to try out new hotels and guest houses, we opted for the tried and trusted Le Lert Hotel, which is conveniently located between Ratchaburi town centre and The Mitr Phol Stadium. Once more, the Samut Prakan playing squad and staff had also decided to use The Le Lert as their base.
I'm pleased to report that not only is The Le Lert still a fine mid-range hotel, but their room rates were cheaper than last year (down from 1,200 to 975 baht) Currently the only negative is having to take breakfast in your room (as a Covid precaution) but hopefully that won't last long.
When we arrived and checked in, the team were just sitting down to a buffet lunch in the restaurant. Khun Jiab, Samut Prakan's friendly chief executive, came over to say hello and very graciously invited us to join - but we politely declined. Firstly, we were still full from our Chinese lunch and secondly, we didn't want to bother the playing staff as they prepared for that evening's important game.
When the team and backroom staff eventually left for the Mitr Phol Stadium at 5.00 pm, we used the opportunity to take a few photos, have a brief chat with several players and generally wish them all good luck.
To the match itself?
Khun Pathomchai, the leader of the Samut Prakan supporters club, had spent much of the week attempting to rally the troops. His message was clear - 'our team is at the wrong end of the table. We desperately need points and we desperately need your support. Ratchaburi is only a short drive away so please make the effort to come and cheer the team on'. Thankfully his voice was heard and it was one of the best away turnouts I'd seen for some time. At least 50-60 travelling fans sung their hearts out for 90 minutes and did the team proud. But could the players do it out there on the pitch?
Samut Prakan welcomed back Samuel Rosa to lead the attack and with a midfield trio of Ingreso, Yuto Ono and Daisuke Sakai fully fit and raring to go, this was about as strong a team as the visitors could field. Chaiyawat Buran, serving a ban for his red card against Police Tero, was probably the one noticeable absentee.
On Saturday night, I had dipped my toe into the Thai second division for the very first time and went along to watch MOF Customs play Chiang Mai FC out near Bangkok Airport. After a goalless stalemate with little in the way of action and watched by just a couple of hundred fans, I wondered if it was possibly the dullest football match I'd ever sat through. As it turns out, Ratchaburi v Samut Prakan was about to give it a run for its money.
I'm struggling to recall one worthwhile strike at goal or a solitary decent save in the opening 45 minutes - from either side. Samuel Rosa fired a tame shot from outside the penalty area for Samut Prakan while Chayawat failed to connect with a Daisuke cross while standing in front of goal. A glancing header from Derley just before the interval was as close as the home side got. It was frankly pretty awful stuff from two sides who have both clearly lost their way.
Half time: Ratchaburi 0 Samut Prakan 0
(Great away support for Samut Prakan this evening!)
In front of possibly the lowest home crowd of the season (just 1,632) Ratchaburi finally lifted fans off their seats with two early second half efforts but Sittichok blazed over the crossbar and the off-colour Derley fired his shot wide. Samut Prakan worked hard to force an opener themselves but it became a frustrating repeat of losing possession in the final third care of too many misplaced passes and wayward crosses. Up front Samuel Rosa plowed an isolated furrow. You wouldn't even use the timeless expression 'feeding off scraps'. There were no scraps to feed off. In fact I'll do you all a favour and fast forward to the final whistle.
Final score: Ratchaburi 0 Samut Prakan 0
(We'll support you ever more!)
In past seasons you would've rubbed your hands with glee at the thought of leaving the Mitr Phol with a point but this is now a comparatively mediocre Ratchaburi side. They were managerless, low on confidence and were there for the taking. This was definitely two points dropped. It was a glorious opportunity to put some daylight between us and Suphanburi after Suphanburi's defeat at Khon Kaen on Friday night, not to mention put some extra pressure on Ratchaburi. We just didn't take it.
There is a long third of the season still to go and plenty of time to put things right - but I have the distinct feeling we could be in for a relegation nail-biter. Strap yourselves in!
Who's up next?
It's a midweek fixture and a very tough away trip to Bangkok United on Wednesday.